CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Superintendent Michael LaSusa sent a message to district parents on April 17, noting that Gov. Phil Murphy has mandated that state schools remain closed through at least May 15.

His full message can be read below:

Dear Parent,

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I hope that you and your families are well.  I would like to express my sympathies to those of you who have been directly impacted by Covid-19.  I know that two of our staff members have lost loved ones, that many of our families have probably endured the same, and that Chatham lost one of its most devoted and involved citizens, Bill Nauta.  It has been a difficult and tragic time for many. Below are some updates with respect to our current status of schools.

Duration of School Closure

Governor Murphy announced that New Jersey schools will remain closed at least until May 15.  We all will remain hopeful that by that point, conditions will have changed and we will be able to salvage a small remainder of the school year.  At the same time, we recognize that schools may remain closed for the duration of the year, and we have been making preparations for that prospect.

Nuts and Bolts

We are in the process of planning for and discussing a multitude of issues and potentialities.  They include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended School Year and summer programs that take place in our schools.
  • Scheduling and placement for all students for the 2021/2022 school year.

  • A plan for review, gap analysis, and targeted instruction to address the loss of physical schooling we are currently experiencing once we return.

  • Updated remote learning plans to contemplate a school closure at the beginning or in the middle of next school year.

  • Rescheduling of evaluation and annual review meetings.

  • Return of medication currently in our nurses’ offices to students and families.

  • Collection of materials, including Chromebooks, textbooks, and library books, from students in the event we are closed for the year.

  • Alternative plans for major year-end events, including high school graduation and prom.

  • Ensuring that we are fully staffed for next year.

  • Securing personal protective equipment for our schools and nurses so that we are in a position to be able to open school once given permission.

We will communicate more information about the above as our situation evolves and as we gain more clarity.  

Moving Forward

When I send a message like this one out to the entire school district, it lands in about 9,000 email boxes.  9,000 email boxes translate into a lot of opinions about the message. As you might imagine, I receive a broad range of opinions about a broad range of school district subjects.  I understand that there are many opinions about how we are conducting online instruction. I have heard from parents who would like to see more structure and a set schedule of synchronous teaching.  I have heard from other parents who have expressed appreciation for not having a set schedule due to the dynamics in their homes. I have heard from some parents who would like all grading at CHS to be recorded as pass/fail for either the full semester or the remainder of the semester.  I have heard from other parents who would like numerical grades to continue with the same weight as those earned prior to the closure. I have heard from some parents who would like us to reduce the current workload; from others wanting us to increase it; from others that it is just right and working well for their children. 

I also communicate regularly with many other superintendents, in particular those in New Providence, Millburn, Summit, Morristown, West Morris, West Windsor-Plainsboro, Ridgewood, Madison, Harding, and Freehold Regional.  These are some of my closest colleagues, and we correspond about what is working well and what is not, and what concerns have emerged from parents, staff, and students.  

There is no single best solution to virtual schooling and remote learning.  No approach is perfect. We are doing the best we can, and our faculties and administrative teams are working together to evaluate our practices and make improvements and adjustments so that we get better for our students.  Our principals will continue to communicate schoolwide adjustments, while teachers and other staff members will communicate changes at the classroom level. I appreciate your patience, even if you believe we should be doing something entirely different.  This would be a failure if not for the amazing support of our parents.  

Final Thought

One of the many ways I unfailingly irritate my wife is that when she expresses frustration or despair about something, I often respond by saying, “It could always be worse.”  Then I often cite a truly horrifying prospect, like how we would feel if someone we loved were seriously ill or how it would be if we were the victims of a war crime. She then says that I am not “really hearing her” or something to that effect.

So as my own spirits have sunk and my temper has shrunk at times over the past month, I decided to take a little bit of my own medicine and remind myself that I am very fortunate and could be dealing with a lot worse.  I did this by turning to a book that I had not read since I was in 9th grade at Eastchester High School, in Eastchester, New York. The book was Night, by Elie Wiesel.  I knew the book would help me gain some perspective, but I did not anticipate how different it would be to read it as a parent.  Elie was 15 years old when the Nazis entered his village and subsequently sent his entire family to Auschwitz. My own children turn 14 tomorrow.  They are bored. They get up a little later than normal. They procrastinate for a while before checking their Google Classroom. They work in fits and starts.  They argue. They make me pull my hair out when I have to step in to help with math. We all want to go back to school.  But you read something like Night and you realize that this is not too much to endure.  I am thankful that we have our health, electricity, food, and each other.  I am grateful that the weather is starting to warm up. I am trying to focus on what it will be like to get back to “normal,” even if normal is not normal.  This will not last forever and we are 36 days closer to the end than we were 36 days ago, which is the day I announced we would be closing.

Thank you for all that you are doing to help us move forward and get to the end.  

Sincerely,

Michael LaSusa